Luxembourg’s biobank collaborates with US National Cancer Institute

IBBL (Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg) has started working with the Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Branch (BBRB) of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) on two biospecimen research projects. The researchers aim to assess the impact of pre-analytical variation (fixation and cold ischemia time) on the quality of cancer tissues used for both diagnosis and research. Their ultimate goal is to identify sets of molecules that are most sensitive to these variations and eventually validate some of them as quality control tools for tissue biospecimens.


Biospecimens for translational and clinical research should be well-annotated with relevant clinical data as well as information about how the biospecimens have been handled prior to analysis. As much as possible, each biospecimen collection, processing, and storage step until final analysis should be tightly controlled. This is the role of biobanks and biorepositories all around the world. To determine the best way to handle a given biospecimen, scientists need to first determine how various factors during collection, processing and storage affect different downstream analysis. The potential impact of these pre-analytical variations on sample quality is the main reason why IBBL (Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg) carries out internal biospecimen science research as a tool for continuous improvement. It is also why the NCI set up their Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Branch (BBRB) with a mission to facilitate cancer and biomedical research by improving the quality and consistency of human biospecimens.

One of BBRB’s focus areas is the support and development of biospecimen research, for example by launching calls for collaborations. In 2013, BBRB and IBBL agreed to collaborate on two projects to investigate pre-analytical variations in different types of cancer tissue. IBBL will analyze cancer tissues collected by the NCI to investigate procedural variations in the fixation and paraffin-embedding of tissue. Dr Fay Betsou, IBBL’s Chief Scientific Officer, leads the project from IBBL.

For the first project, IBBL will use the SmartChip Real-Time PCR platform from Wafergen, one of IBBL’s partners, to compare the profiles of a specific type of regulatory molecule, micro RNA (miRNA), in tissues that have been fixed in formalin for different lengths of time. The project’s goal is to identify which miRNAs can and cannot be detected depending on fixation time, and thus assess their likely performance in real-world clinical biospecimens. The study should shed light on the likely utility of some miRNAs as clinically relevant cancer biomarkers.

The second project will use the same types of cancer tissues and evaluate how the levels of gene activity change depending on how much time passes between the removal of the tissue and its processing in the laboratory (cold ischemia time). Rather than analysing thousands of genes, the project will focus on specific target genes, which were previously shown to be sensitive to cold ischemia time and are thus candidate quality control markers.

“Though traditional biobanking activities such as sample collection, processing and storage are the bread and butter of our foundation, internal biospecimen science research is a key component in achieving our missions” comments Dr Catherine Larue, Chief Executive Officer of IBBL. Clearly pleased to see that the quality of IBBL’s biospecimen science research has caught the eye of international organisations, Dr Larue adds: “As a relatively new biobank, our experienced and highly qualified staff has been instrumental in attracting well-recognized and respected partners and clients”.